Windows at 30: How Microsoft Changed the Personal Computing World
What really made Windows NT important and helped ensure that Windows would dominate the PC world was something almost nobody knew about at the time. Deep within Windows was the Hardware Abstraction Layer. This allowed programmers to make their software work with Windows by providing the software interface to the hardware in much the same way that a computer's BIOS provides a low-level hardware interface to the specific machine. At this point, there was Windows for consumers and Windows for business users. But within a couple of years, Microsoft made the next critical change that would cement Windows into a place for serious computing, which happened when Windows NT became Windows 2000, and the versions of Windows based on DOS were dispatched to history. Then came Windows XP in 2001, which is without question the most successful PC operating system ever. This was the operating system that essentially defined how personal computers could run reliably with a lot fewer of the infuriating "Blue Screen of Death" crashes that plagued earlier versions of Windows.Microsoft has tried to move on from Windows XP, first with Windows Vista, then with Windows 7. Despite all of that, XP was what people ran on their computers, and it's what runs computers today, although its installed base is gradually shrinking, whether they're desktop machines, displays at airports or support for bank ATMs. Windows 7 only partly replaced XP, and Windows 10 is still trying to replace Windows 7. The biggest factor in the success of Windows 7 and 10 is age, because computers with XP are simply wearing out. By now, the total number of computers running Windows has passed 1.5 billion, according to Microsoft, although the exact number is unknown. More than 90 percent of all computers in the world run Windows, according to several estimates I've found. What this means is that Windows has given the world's computer users an operating system that was easy to learn, stable and generally good enough to dramatically enhance their productivity. "It's remarkable to reflect on the impact of Windows over the past 30 years, and we are excited about the road ahead with Windows 10, which is already the most successful Windows ever," a Microsoft spokesperson told me when I asked her to reflect on the past three decades in which Windows has risen to dominance. "We're thankful to all of our employees, partners and customers around the world for the role they play in making Windows a part of their daily lives. We look forward to many more years of empowering individuals and organizations to do more." What the spokesperson said about Windows being part of the daily lives of nearly everyone who uses a computer is central to the place this OS holds in the world of computing. It's now part of life for billions of people, and that alone has profoundly affected history.
XP was so well done that 14 years after it first shipped, it's still Microsoft's most widely used operating system. It was, effectively, the default operating system for the world.